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Al Qaeda's Mad Scientist

The significance of Abu Khabab's death.

12:15 AM, Jan 19, 2006 • By DAN DARLING
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Since the failed European plots, Khabab's location and activities have been unknown to the general public with the exception of a January 2004 report in the New York Post claiming that U.S. intelligence agencies were mounting a worldwide manhunt for him based on new intelligence that he had resumed his activities and may have been involved in the construction of a "dirty bomb" or other devices for use in terrorist attacks in the United States.

In March 2004, Egypt arrested his teenage son, Hamzah, following his deportation from Pakistan in an apparent bid to gain leverage on the boy's father. Since then, it is unknown whether or to what extent Khabab was involved with either the disrupted April 2004 plot by followers of Abu Musab Zarqawi to carry out a terrorist attack in Amman (Jordanian authorities claimed it would have involved the use of chemical weapons to kill thousands of civilians) or the May 2005 plot using cyanide-based substances that the Russian government claims was organized by Chechen Islamists and a Jordanian terrorist known as Abu Mudjaid.

IF KHABAB CAN BE SAID to have had a lasting effect on the development of Islamist extremism, it would be that he moved the possibility of Islamists using unconventional weapons out of the theoretical and into the practical. Those wishing to view his legacy need look no further than the extremely crude but deadly chemical and biological experiments set up under the auspices of Ansar al-Islam in northern Iraq prior to the U.S. invasion.

With Khabab dead, it is unclear what has become of the leadership of al Zabadi, particularly if the other Egyptians killed in Damadola include any of Khabab's assistants or aides. The issue of determining Khabab's successor is complicated by the fact that the U.S.-led campaign against al Qaeda has already dealt a number of blows to the terror network's unconventional weapons efforts--including the capture of Mohammed Omar Abdel Rahman, the son of the convicted Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman whom the Los Angeles Times identified in April 2004 under his kuniyat (assumed name) of Asadullah as being a member of al Zabadi prior to his capture in February 2003. Another senior al Qaeda leader, Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, is believed to have worked closely with Khabab in Afghanistan and was captured in Pakistan in November 2005.

In the absence of either man, one possible successor would be Abu Bashir Yemeni, whom the Los Angeles Times reported in April 2004 had worked with both Khabab and Mohammed Omar Abdel Rahman.

While Khabab was not listed among the senior echelons of the al Qaeda leadership, he was one of its most dangerous engineers.

Dan Darling is a counter-terrorism consultant for the Manhattan Institute's Center for Policing Terrorism.